NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Close to 1,000 cars and trucks -- including nearly two dozen models making their world debuts -- are filling the floor at the 2003 New York International Auto Show.
This last major show of the annual U.S. season threw open its doors Wednesday for the first of two media days at the sprawling Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan.
The loudest buzz so far wasn't over a six-figure fantasy machine or an explosive sports car, but the Little Toyota That Could: an all-new 2004 Prius gas-electric hybrid expected to deliver a combined 55 mpg when it goes on sale this fall.
The New York show opens to the public with a "sneak preview" April 18 and runs through April 27. The highlights so far:
Calling it the greenest production car on earth -- and one that will bring high-mileage, low-emissions hybrid propulsion into the mainstream -- Toyota unveiled its 2004 Prius. No longer wrapped in the dowdy Toyota Echo skin, the second-generation Prius features a dramatically modern, aerodynamic shape that's key to its quiet cabin and mileage gains of about 15 percent over the previous model: Expect roughly 55 mpg in combined city/highway driving.
Built on a six-inch longer wheelbase, the Prius achieves the interior space of a midsize sedan -- and should offer twice the fuel mileage of its nearest midsize competitor when it goes on sale in fall. Toyota's powerful new Hybrid Synergy Drive, expected to drive a range of models including the upcoming hybrid Lexus RX 330 SUV, here delivers a 0-to-60 mph time of about 10.5 seconds. That's a two-second improvement over the sluggish original, and roughly equivalent to a four-cylinder Toyota Camry. Tailpipe emissions are reduced another 30 percent versus the 2003 model, Toyota claims. Technology abounds, including so-called "drive by wire" systems: The accelerator is fully electronic, with no mechanical connections, as is the joystick shifter protruding from the dash. An option lets drivers unlock and start the car while the keyfob remains in their pocket.
(More on the Toyota Prius)
Does the "V" stand for "Vroom?" Actually, it stands for "Velocity." The CTS-V, unveiled at New York's Splashlight Studios, is the first of several upcoming models that will flaunt the V-series badge denoting Caddy's new high-performance line.
Posing an all-American challenge to the Bavarian biceps of the BMW M3 and also Mercedes AMG models, the CTSv's trump card is a Corvette-based LS-6 engine that pumps out 400 horsepower. Cadillac promises a 0-to-60 mph time of under 5 seconds, and a top speed above 150 mph, when the CTSv hits dealers this fall. A six-speed manual transmission makes this the first Caddy since 1940 to not offer an automatic. Wrapped in aerodynamic new bodywork, the CTS features massive, racing-style Brembo brakes, including four-piston caliper binders up front. A firmer suspension was fine-tuned at Germany's famed Nurburgring racetrack.
Cadillac plans to build just 2,000-to-3,000 CTSv's each year.
Subaru purists were suspicious of GM's plan to give product-starved Saab its own version of the wildly popular, rally-style Subaru WRX. But Saab's sketch of the upcoming 9-2 should allay all fears: The sporty compact hatchback looks every bit a Saab, nothing like a rebadged Subaru.
Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman, said the partnership between Sweden's quirky Saab and Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries actually makes perfect sense. "Both have a strong aviation background, and a reputation for individuality and engineering prowess," GM's product czar said.
The entry-level 9-2 will be Saab's first all-wheel-drive car when it goes on sale in just over a year. It will offer a choice of two four-cylinder engines, either a base 2.5-liter or a turbocharged, 2.0-liter expected to approach 300 horsepower.
(More on the Saab 9-2)
You'd think Ford would hesitate to remind anyone of its wretched Fairmont Futura of the late `70s. Instead, the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker is banking on this midsize sedan -- along with the upcoming Ford Five Hundred -- to help loyalists forget the Taurus when it begins trimming back production of that moribund model.
Expected in fall 2005 as a 2006 model, the Futura is based on the brilliant Mazda6, but with totally different styling that draws cues from the recent Ford 427 concept car. Ford's new ultra-low-emissions, four-cylinder engine will be the base powerplant, a 2.3-liter version with 150-to-160 horsepower. A 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 with roughly 220 horsepower is the uplevel engine.
Later, the Futura is tabbed to become Ford's second hybrid model, following the Escape SUV.
(More on the Ford Futura)
Ford Escape Hybrid
Ford's popular compact SUV will become the first gas-electric hybrid truck when it goes on sale in fall -- first in low-volume fleet sales, then to consumers in roughly summer 2004. The impressively advanced hybrid system, whose 65 kilowatt electric motor will become the most powerful yet in a hybrid vehicle, is expected to deliver 35-to-40 mpg in city driving.
The Escape Hybrid also meets California's rigorous standards for SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) and PZEV (Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicle). Ford promises acceleration comparable to the V-6 powered Escape, along with optional all-wheel-drive.
Since its 1998 debut, the TL has been an exceedingly capable, top-selling luxury sedan, but it's been handicapped by its plain-brown-wrapper looks. Judging by this handsomely chiseled concept version, the latest TL should change that perception.
Based on the all-new Accord, the TL should deliver at least 260 horsepower when it goes on sale this fall. The concept version is several inches shorter than the likely production version. The consumer model will offer the world's first automotive application for DVD Audio 5.1, along with Bluetooth wireless telephone connections and XM Satellite Radio.
It's called a concept, but the 300C is extremely close to the production version of the full-size sedan coming this fall. The brazen, broad-shouldered sedan highlights Chrysler's switch to rear-wheel-drive for replacements of the current 300M, Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler LH. The cars will feature Mercedes mechanicals including its Electronic Stability Program, a handling feature that's a virtual must for rear-drive cars in snowy northern climes.
Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche said the unapologetically American sedan was conceived as an affordable, high-powered alternative to European luxury machines. It's also part of Chrysler's daring bid to move into premium territory, a move that includes the Chrysler Crossfire sports car and Pacifica crossover.
"These days, you either present something special, or you play in the low end," Zetsche said. "You don't want to get stuck in the middle."
The 300C gets its groove from a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with well over 300 horsepower; modified from the version in the Dodge Ram. Base engine will be the 3.5-liter, roughly 250 horsepower V-6.
(More on the Chrysler 300C)